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Thursday, October 07, 2004

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Is “Shock and Awe” a diversion?

The hot rumor that’s flying around the Internet today is that the Bush campaign is about to launch its “Shock and Awe” attack on John Kerry’s liberal Senate record, and that this is their “October Surprise”.

It sounds very plausible that Bush would hold his fire until the final month of the campaign, so the charges would be fresh in voters’ minds. Certainly there is plenty of material to attack Kerry on, and I have no doubt that a major offensive along those lines will take place.

But isn’t it rather curious that a “veteran GOP campaign operative” would leak the strategy ahead of time? Isn’t it strange that a highly-partisan web site like CrushKerry.com would publicize it? Why give the Kerry folks a heads-up?

Well, there are several possible explanations. Leaks do happen, and some people like to show off their inside knowledge to puff up their importance. Maybe the Kerry campaign won’t pay serious attention to rumors generated by right-wing blogs. And maybe it doesn’t matter if the Kerry campaign knows, because there’s very little they can do to effectively counter it.

But maybe it’s a fake-out.

Remember the first “Shock and Awe”? There were numerous news reports that the Iraqi invasion would begin with the most intense air blitzkrieg in history, to stun and overwhelm the enemy prior to the mop-up ground operations.

That’s not quite how it played out. To be sure, there was a tremendous number of high-precision bomb and missile strikes to take out specific military targets. But the real attack came from the heavily armored ground forces quickly thrusting through to the main objective of Bagdhad, without waiting weeks for the softening-up air bombardment. General Franks achieved an amazing degree of tactical surprise, at least partly due to the highly-anticipated Shock and Awe which never fully materialized.

If an all-out attack on Kerry’s liberal Senate record is an analogous strategic ploy, then what is being hidden? What could be more politically effective? Where will the main attack really take place?

Fallujah.

It seems counter-intuitive, but I think it makes sense. The main theme of the Kerry campaign in recent weeks has been that Iraq is a failure, as proven by the facts on the ground (most especially Fallujah) and by what Americans can see with their own eyes on their TVs and in their newspapers every day.

There have been recent successes in Iraq. The battle for Samarra appears to be a big victory. General Abizaid is expected to try to replicate it in Ramadi and nearby areas so as to isolate Fallujah before mounting the final decisive battle for that city. According to ABC news, Secretary of State Colin Powell

offered a road map to the coming offensive. He said the military likely will tackle the Sunni Triangle cities of Ramadi and Samarra before attempting to restore order in nearby Fallujah, which he called "the tough one."

I, and I suspect many other people, have sort of assumed that Bush is just waiting until after November 2nd to unleash American forces on Fallujah and finally clean it out. Obviously he wouldn’t want a huge jump in American casualties right before the election, but he’s got to act before the Iraqi elections which are scheduled for January. It seems like a logical timetable, given the political realities. The insurgents and terrorists holed up in Fallujah know that a battle is coming, but they have another month before it arrives. In the meantime they can step up their own attacks and hope to undermine Bush’s re-election prospects.

What does all this add up to? The situation has all the ingredients for complete tactical surprise.

What if the forces supposedly being assembled for Ramadi instead hit Fallujah sometime in October? This would be an all-out assault, in massive numbers not seen since the end of major combat last year. The goal would be to kill or capture thousands of insurgents in a matter of hours or days and completely retake the city. In one blow, the center of resistance would be eliminated. Everything else in Iraq would be mop-up.

Politically, it would be a grand-slam home run for President Bush. All the Kerry talk about failure in Iraq and “quagmire” and Vietnam-analogies would be wiped out. Nor would it hurt Bush if even a few score American soldiers were killed in the process. The American public will accept casualties as long as they are in a winning cause. The unexpected, bold stroke would once again re-emphasize Bush’s status as a wartime President who is taking the fight to the enemy.

Kerry and the Democrats will be reduced to whinging that the “timing is suspicious” and that the attack occurred for political purposes. That won’t go over very well. The public does not expect the President to suspend war operations until an election is over or to avoid political risks. If Kerry criticizes Bush for a huge victory in Fallujah (or for on-going battles, if the fight isn’t yet over), it will telegraph the fact that Kerry can’t be trusted to be aggressive and pro-active in the Global War On Terror.

Of course I’m assuming that U.S. military forces will be successful. I think that’s a fairly safe assumption, given the track record.

So once again “Shock and Awe” may turn out to be a diversion, this time intended to surprise the insurgents in Fallujah and to whiplash the Kerry campaign.

Maybe John Edwards can sue for whiplash after his ticket crashes and burns.








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